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The Sealed Letter Paperback – 2 Feb 2012

98 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 496 pages
  • Publisher: Picador (2 Feb. 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1447205987
  • ISBN-13: 978-1447205982
  • Product Dimensions: 13 x 3.3 x 19.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (98 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 43,057 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

Praise for THE SEALED LETTER: "Donoghue weaves an engrossing and... quite funny melodrama about a bad, bad girl who bursts the seams of this corseted world... part "Forever Amber" and part clockwork courtroom drama, with bawdy undercurrents of forbidden love thrown in for good measure. All in all, a deliciously wicked little romp, complete with a clever twist at the end." -- "The Seattle Times""Emma Donoghue's triangle of real-life protagonists presents us with a quintessentially Victorian tableau...mid-Victorian London feels so real you can almost taste it." -- "Washington Post Book World""A fascinating tour de force, a brilliant unraveling of closely held secrets and brutal betrayals...A case of Dangerous Liaisons with yet another layer of Victorian outrage." -curledupwithagoodbook.com"Donoghue blends a true case and period detail into an intriguing tale of mystery and passion."--"The Oregonian""Donoghue recreates grim 19th-century London -- relieved by whiffs of exotic M

About the Author

Born in 1969, Emma Donoghue is an Irish writer who spent eight years in England before moving to Canada. Her fiction includes Slammerkin, Life Mask, Touchy Subjects and the international bestseller Room (shortlisted for the Man Booker and Orange Prizes).

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Customer Reviews

3.6 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

60 of 62 people found the following review helpful By Ellis Bell on 25 Sept. 2008
Format: Hardcover
The Sealed Letter is one of those books I just couldn't put down--and then felt bereft when I finally finished it. Set in London in 1864, the novel is loosely based on a scandalous divorce case, and features facts stranger than fiction: a stained dress (sound familiar?), fabricated evidence, and scandal more scandalous than the sensationalist novels of the period. It's a novel in which supposed friends turn against one another, in which servants even turn against those they serve.

Helen Codrington is a wife and mother, born and bred abroad, who craves some excitement in her life. Never thinking of what might happen, she embarks on an affair with Captain David Anderson. Late in the summer of 1864, Helen runs into her old friend Emily "Fido" Faithfull, a crusader for women's rights, who's surprisingly... conventional, all things considered. When Harry Codrington finds out about Helen's affair, however, the lives of these three characters change drastically. The novel's point of view vacillates between Helen, Fido, and Harry.

It's a stunning, well-written book, which explores the way in which lies affect the lives of each of these characters. It's also a fair representation of mid-Victorian mores; although it's tough for us today to understand, divorce was much, much more scandalous and socially crippling in an era that placed a focus on the family and the woman's role in that family. It's strange, too, to a modern reader, the laws that governed divorce in the 19th century (for example, the two primaries were prohibited from testifying). Each of the characters is well-written, and Donoghue gets into the minds of each of the main characters with ease. She never tries to infuse this book with a modern sensibility.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Stuart C. on 23 Aug. 2013
Format: Paperback
A history based fiction using real characters from a well known trial of the 1860s. This is an interesting portrayal of Victorian London life, the first womens' movement (The Cause) and the arcane workings of the 19th century legal system.

The characters are well drawn and clear - beautiful but manipulative Helen, plain but honest Fido Faithful who runs several businesses but is often gullible, and Admiral Harry Codrington, a modern, impeccably behaved man but dry and dull. The latter comes over as a little wooden perhaps.

The plot is constructed around the legal process with a succession of denouements via flashbacks; this is well written but predictable - the reader knows the end point so the interest has to be kept up via the characters development - Fido's betrayal and sexual identity and Helen's bravado.

I enjoyed the Victorian details but feel the novel lacks energy in places; the legal machinery perhaps turns too slowly for the pace of the novel.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Purpleheart TOP 100 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 20 Mar. 2012
Format: Paperback
'The last day of August, and the sky is the colour of hot ash. Something rancid wafts on the air from Smithfield Market; the air glitters with stone dust.'

The novel opens with Fido meeting an old friend, long missed, on Farringdon Street, near her place of work, for she is a modern, financially independent woman. They seem an unlikely pair - one a blue stocking, the other a bored and somewhat reckless married woman - but we learn they were once intimates and their friendship resumes as Fido in drawn into her friend's romantic affairs. Before long we are drawn into a scandalous court case for adultery, in which Fido is a key witness.

Emma Donoghue has made this type of historical fiction her own. The court scenes are gripping, her sensory descriptions transport us into her imagined London and her research is worn lightly. I found the novel very readable and fascinating on the early women's movement and the court case with it sealed letter is completely gripping.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By thetruthshallsetyefree on 18 Nov. 2012
Format: Paperback
This is thoroughly researched and beautifully written account of women's status in society in the mid-eighteen hundreds.

It is a well-balanced, methodical and carefully written novel based on true events with plenty of subtle humour and a wealth of period detail.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Dave Robson on 26 Oct. 2012
Format: Kindle Edition
Having read Room I wasn't sure what to expect from this. Set in Victorian times it set around the Codrington divorce case, Helen the flighty young wife of Admiral Codrington and her friend Fido a pioneer in the British women's movement.

The unfolding drama around Helens infidelity drags Fido into the case and threatens the womens movement, who cannot afford to be involved in such a scandalous case.

The books real joy is the way it made me empathise with all the parties, they are not portrayed as black and white but in a nuanced and sympathetic way that leaves you hoping that they can sort out there issues in a more civilised way.

It was a surprise and a delight.
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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Simon Evers on 28 Feb. 2012
Format: Paperback
I wanted to like this book but eventually found it rather irritating. The story-line is engaging enough but the pace is rather pedestrian - probably deliberately so, as it is written in the present tense and in a Victorian 'style'. However, the circumlocutions and euphemisms soon begin to grate and make it not exactly hard going but just rather plodding.

Historically, there is much of interest - in fact, I found the Author's Note at the end fascinating, unlike much of the narrative! But this should not be the case, surely, in a work of historical fiction. (- And isn't always - contrast My Dear I Wanted to Tell You by Louisa Young, which I also read recently and thoroughly enjoyed.)
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